After years spent refining his craft behind the scenes, singer-songwriter, August Royals, burst onto the scene in March with the release of his debut EP ‘Inhaler’.
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Words: Jake Wright
After years spent refining his craft behind the scenes, singer-songwriter, August Royals, burst onto the scene in March with the release of his debut EP ‘Inhaler’. The project arrived after a string of singles that teased fans throughout last year, and given its nine tracks, the artist certainly appeared to have a lot to say. In the time since, August has quickly built a reputation for his raw and deeply emotive lyrical style that never shies away from tackling personal themes. The artist also managed to keep listeners on their toes with an ever-changing production style that touched on hip hop, alt-pop, and contemporary rock reminiscent of the 80s. It was an intriguing first offering that gave us a glimpse into the mind of the artist and left us envisioning what’s to come.
August was fascinated by music from the offset and learned to play the ukulele as a child. However, it was when he reached his teenage years that he started to notice that his experience with the artform was a lot different from others. Upon taking guitar lessons he realized that he hated the aspect of being behind an instrument, and his passion instead lay within singing and songwriting. “I was trying to kind of find my footing and where exactly I belonged in the music world, because I just know something I gravitated towards.” He explains, “As I got older, I realized there's a spot there that I want to land. I just don't really know if that's being some insane musician, or some crazy lyricist or a great vocalist.”
The artist embraced the idea of putting his full energy into refining his voice, in large part down to the noughties phenomena of the MTV music channel. A staple part of his upbringing, the outlet offered him an endless array of visual inspiration, while the element of showmanship that came with much of their content encouraged his idea that there’s more to being a musician than playing an instrument – it’s about the energy and emotion you transmit. “A lot of those old flashy MTV Music videos that would premiere, those people aren't playing instruments or anything, either.” August states, “They're just dancing and singing, and overexpressing themselves in a way that was like, really attractive. And I thought that was just such a cool form of expression.”
The artist's time spent absorbing such visuals stuck with him and August found himself channeling that very sense of self-expression throughout his creative endeavors. Although there was an area he really excelled in – writing stories. In some ways, it felt like a natural gift, as he explains: “I wrote a lot. I’ve always written little poems, or I'd write songs for my teachers. It just kind of kept going from there with a couple of hurdles in the road.” Without a doubt, an area in the creative process of making music that many find to be most challenging became second nature to the artist from the very beginning. August had the credentials and knew that he wanted to be in the music world, he just didn’t quite know how to get there.
However, the rather non-existent music scene of his home state of Georgia offered little to no musical inspiration and certainly no direct route into the industry. The artist cites the emerging sounds of Atlanta rap, Migos, and The Weekend as prevalent sounds around him, but he knew there was no future for him there. So August decided that he wanted to broaden his horizons, and ventured to Nashville to study at Belmont university – an institution that specializes in music. Although the experience certainly wasn’t what he expected. Studying music business, the artist suddenly found himself surrounded by like-minded individuals for the first time, an experience that turned out to be more productive than the course itself. “I skipped class more than I attended.” August laughs, “But in that skipping class, everyone there had like one goal for the most part. And that was to kind of weave their way into the music industry in some way. And so, it was a really good hive of creativity. And people that were my age had the same ambition. It turned into rooms of five or 10 strangers, and by an hour later, your best friends and you're all like singing the worst or best songs you've ever heard.”
Meeting such an array of creatives was exactly what August needed at a time when he was navigating his own sense of self-doubt about whether this dream could become a reality. In fact, it went a long way in convincing him to devote himself to the craft, believing that eventually, he’d reap the rewards. And so he did, leaving the university after a year in the quest to meet the right people that could help take his voice and project it to the world. “I've never been textbook, I've always been life experience. Being around other people that were doing the same thing was really eye-opening and just made me feel seen a lot in a way.” The artist explains, “I think that collaboration was the push, I needed to be like, Okay, you're going to go chase this, you want this, and it was kind of a burden off my back. That's where I was like, Okay, I'm chasing the artist thing and I'm chasing the songwriting thing. And if I end up broke, hopefully, I can stay at my grandparents' house or something.”
Fueled by a sheer desire to make it, August made the leap of faith to the creative hub of LA. However, initially, he lacked the support system to really call it home. Without a concrete address, the artist resorted to a website called couchsurfing.com, which allowed him to stay with strangers, deemed safe by a user review system. There was a teething period, but by moving to the city he was able to rekindle past friendships, most notably with Kevin Abstract, the infamous rapper best known for his work as part of the band, Brockhampton. The two had met briefly just before August went to Nashville, at a Shawn Mendes concert, and sparked an instant connection. Back then Brockhampton were very much still emerging, but one year on, August returned to find them as fully established artists with a global following. The relationship they shared gave August an insight into a world he’d never had access to before. “It was my first time meeting someone that was really living an artist's lifestyle, in the sense of releasing records, going on tour.” He states, “I'm around these creative people, it just stuck and helped. When I came back, he was still very open arms, along with the rest of the group, which was such a blessing.”
Witnessing the band's explosion firsthand was a heart-warming experience for August, not only as a friend but as an artist as well. Knowing how hard the group worked to get to that point made it even more special, but it also reinforced his idea that it’s certainly possible to turn this artform into a career if you dedicate enough of your life to it. “It was really cool to see someone who wants to put themselves on a trajectory like that. Or I'd say to aim even bigger and actually really do that climb, and see someone going from where they are to a huge explosion in their career. And go from we're struggling artists to ‘Hey, we're playing these huge festivals and people are screaming, and they're excited to see us. We're not nobodies at this festival.’ So, it was really cool to watch.”
In 2019, August’s hard work was starting to show signs of paying off, with a breakout moment on social media. A short clip of what would later turn out to be his single ‘Restless’, gained massive traction on Instagram and quickly went viral. It was a surreal moment that caught the artist way off guard, as he proclaims: “That was astronomical seeing that happen. I [realized] people are responding. What do I do with this now?” Using his initiative, he was using the platform in the same manner people use TikTok today – posting numerous short clips, to garner an idea of what his following reacted best to. But the outpouring of love and support on the video represented the first moment his music might well have the potential to really take off. “I ended up getting attention from some country record labels and eventually I got thrown in a room with a producer and finished that song.” August states, “That was the spark of [realizing] I can make a full song, the first time I thought, ‘I might be a songwriter.’ And that is my place; writing songs and singing, leaning on other people to bring that vision to life.”
That momentum was really taking hold, and the artist was noticing a daily increase in followers that he felt was reinforcing the ideas that he was projecting to the world. August was living in a house with members of Brockhampton and was in the studio writing with them when the pandemic struck. It sent shockwaves across the world, and much of the industry hit the pause button, given the air of uncertainty. It was undoubtedly a tough time, but as time passed August became fueled with creative intent, and it felt like the perfect moment to turn those snippets into refined songs and look inwards for inspiration. “Lockdown was like the fuse finally set off. Because I've struggled a lot with some different mental illnesses and mental health since my adolescence.” August explains, “I'd never really found a way to vocalize that in a way that was comfortable, like outside of a therapy or a counseling room. That finally gave me an opportunity to be like, ‘How can I turn this into something positive?’ You know, if I can find a way to translate some of these emotions, or even scratch the surface of them, then maybe that's going to be something that helps someone else the way these songs have helped me.”
That period saw the artist draw up the foundation of his debut EP ‘Inhaler’. It was an incredibly introspective, personal journey through the artist’s life that pulled no punches. By delving deep into his inner demons, August found a songwriting style that was self-healing, while appearing comforting to listeners. It was as an introduction to the world that was a truly authentic display of not only who he was as an artist, but as a compelling person too. “I really tried to dig in and give a piece of myself in the project. I've never really tried to do anything like that before. So, it was definitely interesting and a learning experience.” August proclaims, “I still look back at lines, maybe I could have said that a little bit better. But also, I'm really proud because it's like, you know, a first project only happens once you do it with such optimistic eyes and such, like, “I have no idea what's going to happen. I have no idea what's going on.’”
But such an experience wasn’t the easiest thing to go through. Many of the themes August tackles within the EP are issues that he’d tried to avoid facing for some time. Within the isolation that came with lockdown, August could no longer avoid them, and ‘Inhaler’ sees him coming to terms with these struggles as the EP plays out. Whether it be within the realms of heartbreak, or his battle with mental health and the highs and lows of emotion in between, ‘Inhaler’ covers it all. “A lot of times, I felt like I didn't have anything to say when I was really lying to myself. There was just a lot of fear of vulnerability.” August explains, “I got really introspective with myself, and I started doing a lot of self-checks that I didn't want to do. That was needed. It was a very hard challenge, I guess for myself being like, ‘Okay, I understand. I've been struggling for a long time. Now I'm going to vocalize it.’ That was a scary thing to move forward with.”
‘Inhaler’ launched with nine tracks – a lot for an EP, although the artist was adamant that the project wouldn’t be called an album. Not only was it deeply personal, but it also offered listeners an insight into August’s vast musical taste. At its core, it borders alt-rock and hip-hop, but August dove into a varied pool of instrumentation. Take ‘All I Need’ for example with its heavy-hitting 808s that sit perfectly alongside the artist's emotive vocals, while ‘Crash’ is driven by a hard-hitting baseline that’s almost broken in its design. The vocalist turned to a trusted array of producers who built an atmosphere that enhanced the project message. Now, he’s already in the studio preparing his next project, and one that looks set to change both sonically, as well as within his creative approach. “It's going to be a little bit more pop rock. But also, I've been wanting to be really impulsive and change my mind. So, it could change. But as of right now, it's definitely going more into live instrumentation.” August proclaims, “The one thing I'm really sure about is I want it to be an extremely tour-able project. I want it to feel like something that when I listen to it and headphones or in the car, I feel like I can't fully experience it unless I go see it live.”
Given the impact MTV music videos had on his artistic development, August was determined to add a visual layer to the project. With the EP being such a personal tale, the idea wasn’t taken lightly and so the artist pulled together a great team and embraced his love for acting. In total five tracks - ‘All I Need’, ‘Blue Football’, ‘Crash’, ‘Oxygen’, and ‘Prada’ - came accompanied with beautifully shot, cinematic music videos which helped to further bring to life each track’s unique story. “For the first time the other day, I actually watched my music videos, just because I was beating myself up over a bad session. I'm really proud of what I created. I think that's what's going to hold me down and get me to the next thing.” He explains, “As long as I keep remembering I can make something I'm proud of, to let myself make something I'm even more proud of and more excited about, and let me share that with people- Instead of lowering my head - to let myself stand up with my shoulders straight.”
Much like many other artists, in his very nature, August is a highly self-critical person, therefore that feeling of pride is rare. It’s a trait he’s aware of and comfortably describes himself as his own “biggest fan, and biggest hater.” But as the years have passed, he’s managed to channel it as a form of motivation and a way of pushing his artistry forward. It’s certainly an approach that’s evident on ‘Inhaler’ with its very refined sound and equally in-depth concept. However, despite a largely positive reaction to the EP, the artist couldn’t quite enjoy the launch of his music career, largely because of many issues he was fighting in his personal life. “I've been really happy with a kind of slow burn and seeing people’s reactions. It's also helped me level my expectations and understand what releasing music in 2021/2022 looks like.” The artist proclaims, “That's really bled into music making now. I don't rush into anything for better or worse. At least I know that the next thing I release is going to be something that I'm super excited about and going to be yelling about- where this first project, I wasn’t as excited as I should have been. I was very nervous the entire time. I felt an immense amount of vulnerability that I hadn't felt probably ever in my life.”
Throughout the chat, August strikes as an incredibly thoughtful individual who cares deeply for those around him. As a long-term sufferer of mental health issues, he holds the topic close to his heart, and much of the art he creates is made with the intent of helping someone out there who’s been fighting the same fight. He’s learned to deal better with his own struggles and is aware of certain triggers to stay away from – social media being the perfect example. Although it’s certainly a marathon as opposed to a sprint, he believes as a topic it needs to be discussed more without fear of prejudice. “I think it's really important to nurture yourself. One thing I think people should be selfish about is, first and foremost, if you're not the best version of yourself, you're never going to be the best version for anyone else. I think it's just really important just to open up and be like, ‘Hey, like, I go through this sometimes. And do you mind if we talk about it?’ I've also kind of learned that if that scares people and pushes them away, or they don't want to be your friends, maybe that's the perfect person either to have that conversation with or to step back and kind of evaluate how deep your friendships are. I grew up where it wasn't cool to talk about it. I think normalizing those conversations more and more, is super important, something I'm always going to advocate for and push. People are really struggling.”
August spent years trying to find his place in the music industry. By consistently putting himself out there and taking risks, things have steadily fallen into place, and at RCA Records, he’s found a home that really supports his vision. ‘Inhaler’, with its genre-defying approach proved the artist to be operating in his own manner, with a belief in his sonic identity. What will endear him to fans in the long run though, is his relatability. And above all, as a young man speaking so openly about his battles, the artist's music could very well have a significant cultural impact. We’ll have to wait and see what comes on August’s next project, but you’ll undoubtedly be able to see him on tour soon.